Emotions & Shame

“Q: Intense Emotions are Ruining My Life. How Can I Control My Temper?”

Emotional dysregulation is the most challenging aspect of ADHD for many individuals. Anger and other intense feelings threaten to ruin relationships from professional to personal. From knowing your triggers, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care, these 11 strategies can help you control your temper.

Q: “I am 39 and was diagnosed with ADHD 10 years ago. I take medication, and it has helped me manage some symptoms, but my strong emotions remain a problem. My intense reactions to situations and people have ruined relationships and led to some bad reviews at work. How can I put a lid on my temper?”

People with ADHD have particularly intense thoughts and emotions. Your highs are higher and your lows are lower. So you may experience happiness and criticism more powerfully than your peers and loved ones do. You can become frustrated and angry quickly, and it is hard to deal with everyday challenges when your responses are always extreme.

It is also common for individuals with ADHD to spend a lot of time ruminating on negative emotions. In fact, one disruptive symptom of emotional dysregulation is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) — a sensitivity (emotional pain) to feelings of (real or perceived) rejection, criticism, or failure.

Many of my clients report that managing emotions is the most challenging aspect of ADHD. You may not feel like you have control over your emotions, but there is plenty you can do to modify their intensity before they damage your relationships with friends, loved ones, and co-workers.

To begin, a multi-modal treatment plan including ADHD medication and behavior therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), has proven effective in helping people understand how situations and thought patterns affect their emotions. Here are additional strategies that managing emotional dysregulation.

[Free Download: Understanding Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria]

How to Control Temper Flare-Ups: 11 Strategies

#1. Understand how ADHD affects your emotions

Recognize that emotional sensitivities are part of your disorder; they are common and measurable symptoms. This awareness can help you avoid unnecessary and destructive self-criticism over your hypersensitivity and intensified emotions.

#2. Own your feelings

Coping with uncomfortable emotions is not about avoidance. Avoiding or suppressing your feelings will exacerbate them when you least expect it. Instead of putting a lid on your emotions, acknowledge them, accept them, and breathe through them.

#3. Identify the situations that set you off and plan how to deal with them

Did your significant other’s simple request to fold laundry differently, for example, set you off, and leave you wondering why you got so mad? Perhaps you perceived the comment as a personal attack. Knowing your triggers will help you gain control over your responses, and reduce the number of times you feel blind-sided by your emotions.

#4. Be prepared to respond to a situation you know will set off your emotions

Recognize the situations that might lead to a blowup. Think about your usual response and consider what you can do to ensure a better outcome. Review your plan before you get into the situation again, and, if possible, make some notes or use a visual cue (perhaps a favorite bracelet) to remind you of the plan when the situation arises again.

[“Why Do I Get So Angry with the People I Love Most?”]

#5. Replace distorted thoughts with realistic thinking

Individuals with ADHD encounter frequent and frustrating setbacks in life. Because of those setbacks, you may become self-critical and pessimistic. This, in turn, brings on negative emotions, cognitive distortions, and an unhealthy self-image.

#6. Deal with triggers that set off emotions

If you realize your anger is driven by jealousy, you should be honest and talk about it. If your anger is caused by stress, you may need more self-care.

#7. Express yourself

With a better understanding of your emotions, you can express yourself without anger. When you can articulate how you are feeling and say what you need, you will feel heard and understood. Let others know what is upsetting you.

#8. Take a time-out

When you are flooded with emotion, take some time and space until you feel more centered. This is a common strategy for relationships where anger-fueled disagreements cause conflict. When either person calls a time-out, both walk away from the problem and return after they have cooled down. Or create a mutually agreed upon verbal cue — a code word — that you use when emotions get out of hand.

#9. Set your boundaries

After expressing strong anger, ask yourself, “What made me so angry?” It might be that someone overstepped a boundary. If you can define a boundary, rather than react after one has been crossed, you will feel respected and be less likely to get angry.

#10. Prioritize self-care

Managing stress is fundamental to achieving emotional wellness. Self-care can reduce stress, relieve uncomfortable emotions, and improve physical and mental health. Basic self-care includes exercising regularly (to improve focus, improve and regulate mood, and increase self-esteem), getting enough sleep (people are more reactive with insufficient sleep), getting solid nutrition (balanced meals help to regulate moods, focus, and energy levels).

#11. Become your own cheerleader!

If you are too critical of yourself, replace criticism with self-compassion. When you are self-critical, you move further away from what you want—self-control. When you accept yourself, you give yourself encouragement. This is essential to building self-confidence and empowerment.

How to Control Temper Flares: Next Steps

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